On a normal day, not long ago at Alvarado Middle School in Union City, P.E. teacher Mark Simmons gave students a lesson in CPR.
“We felt it’s so important for the kids to learn CPR,” said Simmons. “And then teach other people about it.”
Alameda County Emergency Medical Services provided the school district with CPR kits that included a rubber practice mask, an instructional booklet and DVD. Simmons showed the video in the gymnasium, and then challenged his students with a simple homework assignment.
“I figured they’d at least go home and teach their parents and maybe a couple others,” he said.
What Simmons didn’t realize at the time, is that his assignment had set wheels in motion in the mind of 13-year-old Willson Hoang. When Hoang’s mother picked him up from school that day, he begged her to immediately sign his CPR permission slip.
What happened next, is that Hoang not only ran with the ball his teacher had tossed him, he punted it into the next county.
“I trained my family,” said Hoang in a quiet voice, nearly drowned out by a gym full of students. “Then I started training other people which lead me to go train this Buddhist temple.”
The first time Hoang trained someone in CPR, he was required to turn a certification form into his coach.
“He turned that in and then he asked for more,” said Simmons. “I gave him more and more and more and pretty soon, I had I don’t know how many?”
Using his CPR kit, Hoang trained family members. He trained friends. When the Hayward Buddhist temple he attended wanted members to bring something for show-and-tell, he started training adults there. He organized the classes himself. By the time he’d finished, he had taught CPR to nearly a hundred people.
“At first I thought he was just going home and filling them out,” said Simmons of the certification forms. “I was like… Willson are you getting these people? ‘Oh yeah coach.’”
Hoang trained people 96 in CPR, a record for Alameda County. On Tuesday, the county EMS awarded Hoang a plaque, proclaiming his heroic effort.
But it turned-out there was a deeper meaning to Hoang’s valiant CPR-training obsession. As administrators pressed-him for his motivation, he revealed the source of his inner-calling.
Several years ago, Hoang’s father died of Cancer. The son remembered his father struggling - the seizures in the hospital. It occurred to Hoang that if his father had needed help back then, he would’ve wanted someone to have the emergency skills to help.
“I want people to save lives because my dad passed away,” said Hoang. “That motivated me to go do more.”
Alameda County did a recent study that revealed seventh graders are more likely than tenth graders to teach CPR skills to others. So far, the county’s program has trained 10,069 students.
It’s unlikely, any of them heard the call as loudly as Willson Hoang.